For someone whose 12-hour days revolve around coffee, David Waldman consumes remarkably little of the stuff. “I’ll probably have about 20 ounces a week,” says the 55-year-old founder and proprietor of Rojo’s Roastery in Lambertville. Waldman is a walking encyclopedia of coffee — its culture, its history, its chemistry, and its place in the modern world. Meticulous detail goes into every batch of artisan coffee roasted and brewed in his high-ceilinged lab/cafe on Union Street. “I do a lot of tasting and spitting,” he says, referring to an industry term called cupping, a formalized, precise protocol for evaluating coffees from a farm or an importer. “I just don’t drink that much of it.”
Waldman will likely leave much of the tasting and all of the drinking to his audience this weekend, at two area events that focus on two connoisseur items — coffee and Turkish carpets. He will share billing with fellow Lambertville shop owner Ertugrel “Pasha” Hiz (also known as Arturo Pasha), whose Pasha Rugs is a popular destination for authentic Turkish rugs on Bridge Street.
On Friday, November 10, at 7:30 p.m., the two masters of their crafts present “An Evening with the Art of Coffee and Carpets” at the 1860 House in Montgomery. Waldman will discuss the roasting process and offer tastings of several varieties of his estate-grown beans, as well as other blends. Desserts including baklava and Turkish Delight will be served.
Hiz will speak about the history and culture of Turkish and Persian rugs, including the different weaves, countries of origin (such as Azerbaycan and Turmenistan), and the colors used by different cultures, and the symbolism of the different designs. He will also bring floor pillows and saddle bags. All items (rugs and coffee beans) will be offered for sale.
On Saturday, November 11, from 2 to 5 p.m., they join forces again for “Turkish Space: An Afternoon of Coffee, Mezes, History, and Culture,” this time at Rojo’s in Lambertville. Joy Stocke, executive editor of the online magazine Wild River Review, which showcases creative prose, poetry, and contemporary visual art, will also participate in the event at Rojo’s. Hiz will turn the cafe into a Turkish coffee house with rugs and cushions, and also bring an assortment of Turkish sweets and savories to sample along with Turkish coffee prepared by Waldman. Stocke and Hiz will speak about Turkish culture, while Waldman will demonstrate the fine art of brewing and serving Turkish coffee.
Waldman’s exhaustive knowledge of coffee and its origins give the impression that he has been working in the field for decades. But coffee is actually his fourth career. He has been a musician, a cabinetmaker, and a lawyer, spending 15 years at Sony Music before getting laid off a few years ago. “I’ve been in the music industry my whole life,” Waldman says. “I was a cellist and played pedal steel guitar in Nashville. I played with George Jones and Willie Nelson, at the Grand Ole Opry, and toured with country acts all over the place.”
The son of an opthamologist who was also a cellist, a cultivator of bonsai, and a glass artist whose work is in the Smithsonian, Waldman comes by his versatility naturally. Affable and warm, he seems unfazed by his multifaceted resume. He lives with his wife, Jeanne, a nurse practitioner and certified midwife, in Hopewell. One of their grown daughters is an opera singer; the other has followed her mother into midwifery.
Waldman’s office at Rojo’s is partitioned off from the counter and comfortable seating areas at the cafe. The roaster, a vintage gas-fired machine that has been in continuous use by the same family in a small village in France since it was built 50 years ago, is situated just outside his cubicle. It is a far cry from the corporate culture of Sony in Manhattan. But that’s fine with him.
“I actually welcomed the layoff,” Waldman says of the music giant, where he led various departments including advanced technologies, and planning and strategies. “The industry had become so toxic. And it was in a freefall since Napster. They started hemorrhaging. They have since let thousands go. I took it as an opportunity to go to the extreme opposite, taking huge risks but being in control of everything.”
While working at Sony, Waldman had done woodworking in his Hopewell basement, selling many of the pieces he built. But when he became fascinated with the idea of home-roasting coffee about 13 years ago, everything changed. “It’s the equivalent of using modified popcorn poppers,” he says. “I constantly played with them, modified them, and improved them. I was always looking for ways to improve the roasting process. That led to my getting lab equipment, and I launched the business in my basement.”
The cabinetry stuff was cleared out; the coffee gear came in. Coffee from all over the world, as well as lab equipment, grinders, and other tools of the roasting trade took over the workshop. Waldman joined the Roasters Guild, an international organization. He got certified in every aspect of roasting, studying up on subjects like cupping and green bean defects.
“I took a very intensive, full-immersion approach to everything about coffee. I’m still doing it,” he says. “I put together an extensive library on coffee chemistry. I customize every label, with the name and the date of birth of the coffee. I want people to know when the coffee was roasted so they’ll know how fresh it is.”
The idea is not just to roast and sell coffee. Waldman’s approach encompasses social responsibility and a world view, a philosophy known in the industry as “seed to cup.” “We want to go as far as we can go with every aspect of the process,” he says. “It’s a whole chain of custody, from the farmer to the brewing, selling and mail-ordering. Every stage in the process is an opportunity to do as much as you can to make the coffee taste as good as it possibly can. We’re devoted to the sustainability of our product.”
Rojo’s is one of only seven Fair Trade Certified coffee roasters in the state of New Jersey. “We say everything we buy is fairly traded, not Fair Trade,” Waldman says. “We’re really devoted and take our job very seriously. We want to be sure the farmer is paid way above market. Coffee is the number two commodity in the world after petroleum. Because of that, there is a lot of exploitation such as lack of medical care. We purchase from all the growing regions — Sumatra, East Timor, Guatemala, Nicaragua. Everywhere there are horror stories. We go out of our way to improve the world where we procure.”
Waldman sees Rojo’s as a meeting place for the community as well as a roastery and cafe. Works by local artists are on display. Live music, poetry readings, and drum circles are frequent events. Waldman invites the public to take part in the cuppings and tastings that are part of the roasting process.
“We’re so much more than coffee,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle, a social responsibility commitment. We’re taking everything to the next level.”
With its piles of rectangular rugs and walls hung with colorful carpets in striking patterns, Pasha Rugs on Bridge Street looks like it has been there for generations. But it was only three years ago that Ertugrel “Pasha” Hiz moved his stock of rugs, pillows, and saddle bags into the space. For two years previously, he had a store on Coryell Street.
Hiz came to the United States from his native Turkey in 1999, and is a dual citizen. “I came to visit my sister in New York, and I liked it. I drove around this area and liked it more. So I decided to open a store here,” the 44-year-old bachelor says.
Hiz was born in Istanbul to parents who were from East Anatolia. His father was in the rug business, as were other family members. He grew up in the trade. “All my life I was around the villages,” he says. “I know the villages where these rugs are made. Sometimes I even know the families. Today I have two or three people going around in Turkey to buy rugs from houses in the villages that I know.”
Hiz began in Turkey by selling kilims, which are flat-woven praying rugs (no pile), for the European market. He still gets these rugs directly from the Sumak villages. He also sells Tulu rugs. “Some of them are very minimal,” he says, “made of Angora goat and lamb’s wool.”
Some of the rugs Hiz sells are antiques; others are new. But they all stem from the same tradition. “It goes back 3,000 years,” he says. “Then they used many of them for sleeping rugs or to protect themselves from the cold in their tents. Some of the older rugs we can’t repair, so we use only the good parts. Some are 100 to 120 years old.”
The rugs range from two-by-three feet to about 12-by-18 feet, and cost anywhere from $100 to “in the thousands,” Hiz says. “My customers want more than a function. They want something original and unique. Low-quality rugs are everywhere these days. You have to be careful. And look at the color, that’s the most important thing.”
None of his rugs is mass-produced. “They are all one of a kind, individually made for their own use,” Hiz says. “And the quality of wool is the best.”
While crafted for a function, each of the rugs is a work of art. And the designs aren’t always abstract, Hiz says. “It is an art form, because somehow through a design, the rugmaker is giving us a message,” he says. “Maybe their own dreams and hopes are in them. People will walk in here and love a rug and not know why. But I’m sure there’s a hidden connection.”
An Evening with the Arts of Coffee and Carpets, Friday, November 10, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., the 1860 House, Library Room, Montgomery Center for the Arts, 124 Montgomery Road, Montgomery. $30 for members; $35 non-members. Space is limited. Reserve at 609-921-3272.
Also, Turkish Space: An Afternoon of Coffee, Mezes, History, and Culture, Saturday, November 11, 2 to 5 p.m., Rojo’s Roastery, 243 North Union Street, Lambertville. Admission is free. 609-397-0040. For more information on Pasha Rugs, visit www.pasharugs.com. For more information on Rojo’s Roastery, visit www.rojosroastery.com.